By Jake Donovan
Many boxing fans recognize Anselmo Moreno as among the best bantamweights in the world. The problem he faces thus far, however, is that not many fans outside of his native Panama would recognize him if they saw him in the street.
The long-reigning bantamweight titlist gets an overdue public profile upgrade this weekend, when he takes on former two-division champion Vic Darchinyan. The bout is perfectly placed as the co-feature to the hotly anticipated rematch to the Showtime Bantamweight finals between Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko.
Both bouts air on Showtime, live from the Honda Center in Anaheim (9PM ET/PT).
The evening marks a series of firsts for Moreno (31-1-1, 11KO), whose own bantamweight reign began in May 2008 with a unanimous decision on the road against Wladimir Sidirenko. When he steps into the ring to face Darchinyan, he will be making his stateside debut, his first appearance on Showtime and also fighting under the Golden Boy Promotions banner for the first time since signing with the California-based company earlier this summer.
Each of the aforementioned scenarios is essential in increasing his visibility among the boxing public. While the nation of Panama doesn’t boast as rich of a sports history as other Hispanic nations, the guys at the top make for some mighty large shoes to fill.
Chief among them is Roberto Duran, the greatest fighter in Panama boxing history, and quite frankly one of the best of all time in general. Whereas Duran quickly became a global superstar and can’t walk 10 feet without being mobbed for autographs, Moreno probably couldn’t get himself arrested outside of Panama at the moment.
“People recognize me when I'm out running and they want to stop me and take a picture with me,” Moreno says of his popularity in his homeland. “They stop me in the supermarket and want to meet me. I know I wouldn't be recognized walking down the street in Los Angeles now, so that's what I'm hoping will change after a few more fights in the States."
The road to respectability begins with Darchinyan, a regular face on Showtime who has proven to be an integral part of the current shape of the bantamweight division.
The former flyweight and super flyweight king looked to be on the way out after struggling in a 2009 points loss to Agbeko. However, a strong showing – albeit in a narrow defeat – against Mares late last year and a virtual shutout of Yonnhy Perez in their tournament consolation bout earlier this year has put Darchinyan right back in the thick of things.
While it’s hard to discount Darchinyan’s recent run, there are those who take issue with his receiving the opportunity when Moreno was willing to participate in the four-man tournament but was instead forced to take in the action as a spectator. Even more disappointing for the Panamanian was the fallout of a planned HBO-televised showdown with Nonito Donaire, who instead went to battle with Top Rank before resolving all issues later in the year.
None of that did a damn thing for Moreno, who returned home to his native Panama to defeat former flyweight titlist Lorenzo Parra this past June. The bout marked his eighth successful title defense and his 25th consecutive win dating back to 2002.
Having long ago earned his place as one of the division’s best, Moreno is now in search of fame.
"I've had eight title defenses, but I needed a name like Vic Darchinyan to put my name out there on the map. I'm very happy to be with Golden Boy Promotions now and my mindset is all about Dec. 3 and coming out victorious. I know after I win I will want to challenge the other winner to unify the titles. Why not fight Abner Mares after this fight, or Agbeko? I want to unify all the titles at 118.”
It’s only natural for Moreno to shoot for the stars, considering the footsteps he’s forced to follow. Aside from the shadow cast by Duran, he also has to measure up to his own father-in-law, Hall of Fame former two-time lightweight champion Ismael Laguna. The one sports figure whose popularity Moreno hopes to one day match has nothing to do with boxing, as baseball great Mariano Rivera is perhaps the nation’s most successful athlete of all-time
“He worked hard to get where he is in America and now I'm beginning my journey to hopefully get there too,” Moreno says. “My time is coming to be in the same place. He's viewed as a hero here."
Moreno is a long way off, but at just 26 years old still has time to build. A win over Darchinyan would be a great first step towards bridging that gap.
“We're preparing ourselves 100 percent so that on Dec. 3, it's going to be my night and that everyone will leave pleased with my performance. We are prepared and we have watched Vic Darchinyan. We are going to do everything to counter him and make him feel uncomfortable.”
By night’s end, he hopes that boxing fans around the world will feel comfortable recognizing him as a fighter worth remembering.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]